Now that we can do anything, what will we do?
Its hard to imagine a more ambitious beginning to a design
exhibition than this enigmatic question. Yet this is the initial
statement and call to action of Massive Change: The Future
of Global Design, an internationally touring gallery exhibition
showcasing some of the worlds hottest technologies and visionary
Created by Bruce Mau Design and the Institute without Boundaries,
and commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery, Massive Change
offers a whirlwind tour of human achievement in almost every conceivable
realmfrom bicycle-powered water purification systems for the
developing world, to the U.S. militarys most advanced armored
soldier technology; from consideration of the City as humankinds
greatest design achievement and an economic plan that could bring
more than nine trillion dollars in capital to the developing world,
to chickens bred without feathers and a prosthetic human nose made
of stem cell-generated human tissue. Massive Change
ties all this and more together as evidence of our ever-increasing
capacity to shape the world for the better through intentioned actions
According to Bruce Mau, Massive Change embodies the
thesis that design has placed us at the beginning of a new,
unprecedented period of human possibility, where all economies and
ecologies are becoming global, relational and interconnected. In
order to understand these emerging forces, there is an urgent need
to articulate precisely what we are doing to ourselves and to our
world. This articulation is the prime achievement of Massive
Change, a project that not only takes the form of a 20,000-square-foot
gallery exhibition, but also a book published by Phaidon Press,
a talk radio program hosted by Jennifer Leonard, a resource-rich
Website (www.massivechange.com) and a speaker series co-moderated
by Bruce Mau and Charlie Rose. Using an energetic visual style usually
reserved for high-production film or art and culture magazines,
Massive Change achieves a rare blend of emotional impact,
intellectual weight and political edge.
While Bruce Mau may be a relative unknown in ecologically sustainable
design circles, he is recognized in the design world as the groundbreaking
graphic designer whose work with Zone Books redefined the relationship
between visual form and intellectual content in academic and art
publishing. His book SMLXL, written and produced with
Rem Koolhaas, is considered a classic, and Lifestyle,
Maus manifesto on contemporary culture and his studios
design process, is sure to follow. Now, with Massive Change,
Mau focuses his creative vision on the larger issues of ecological
and social equity in the global commons, entering into conversation
with the worlds leading visionaries, including scientists,
military historians, avant-garde economists, environmentalists and
advanced technology designers, to name just a few.
Collaborating with graduate students at the Institute without Boundaries,
a one-year design residency program within the Bruce Mau Design
Studio, Mau developed the thesis of Massive Change after
reading L.B. Pearsons 1957 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, which
quotes historian Arnold Toynbee: The 20th century will be
chiefly remembered by future generations not as an era of political
conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human
society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as
a practical objective. To the Massive Change authors,
the phrase practical objective brings this historical
statement out of the realm of academics and into the arena of design.
And, Mau adds, we are now in a position to evolve that statement
for the 21st century, striving not only for the welfare of the human
race, but of all species. If Massive Change is one thing,
it is a celebration of designs and intentioned strategies that are
making Toynbees vision a reality.
And while this thesis may seem completely in line with traditional
notions of ecologically sustainable design, Massive Change
is not your fathers eco-exposition or a rehashing of established
and essential sustainable design concepts. This is evident when
you consider the breadth of issues discussed in the 11 design
economies that comprise the exhibitions core content.
Each economy describes one relatively distinct realm of human activity
and carries an explanatory ambition-statement (see sidebar).
Familiar design strategies discussed include renewable energy, cradle-to-cradle
manufacturing, Biomimicry, socially responsible investing, and consideration
of Curritiba, Brazil, as a model urban environment. But the project
then delves into less familiar ground: The Information Economy explores
our ability to map and design visual representations of global data
ranging from the sprawling Internet to world climate and weather
patterns. The Image Economy highlights the current mega-proliferation
of scientific and consumer imaging technologies, showcasing the
work of a group of human rights activists who use digital photography
and video to document abuse around the world and prosecute offenders
in courts of law.
Perhaps the most incongruous inclusion in Massive Change,
a project about positive change, is the Military Economy. As the
Massive Change authors recognize, For better and
worse, the military project is one of the most powerful engines
of technological innovation and design. From the microwave oven
to space exploration, from civilian aviation to the Internet, the
military (and in particular the U.S. military) has fed the process
of design. Indeed it is impossible to consider our global future
without considering the impacts of the Military Economy, both its
capacity for madness and its capacity for action on a global scale.
At the end of the day, the summation of the Massive Change
economies could be called the economy of hope. Yes, the world is
full of challengeswar, poverty and environmental degradationbut
there is also profoundly positive work happening around the world
and at all economic levels. Massive Change shows a link
between incredible achievements in wheelchair design for first-world
citizens and efforts to bring clean water to the developing world.
One is not considered more culturally valuable than the other; they
are both practically oriented, born out of love for humanity, and
fundamental to creating an equitable and sustainable world for all.
This represents an integrative vision that combines traditional
ecological design wisdom with the best design thinking in the world,
regardless of explicit sustainable aims.
Another aspect of what makes Massive Change different
is how the message is brought to the public. While from a curatorial
perspective Massive Change takes aesthetics off the
table, overtly choosing to exhibit designs based on their capacity
for change-making rather than what they look like, visual presentation
and aesthetics come into play full-force in telling the story. The
exhibition is an immersive gallery experience that combines the
content-driven intent of a science museum with an edgy delivery
inspired by multimedia installation art, creating communication
that is accessible and exciting, both emotionally and intellectually.
The Massive Change book is part visionary engineering
catalog, part cultural theory text and part monograph, and would
be at home on the reading list of a college course on sustainability
or as a case study in graphic innovation.
The resulting project reaches a broad audience and produces a fresh
perspective on what an ecologically sustainable and globally equitable
future could look and feel like as a dynamic cultural experience.
Suddenly, even the culturally chic SoHo aesthetic design purists,
whose notion of sustainability is confined to recycled tire handbags
and hemp yoga clothes, are paying close attention to the thesis
that design is always an ethically engaged practice. More than this,
Massive Change brings the visual and graphic arts community,
the military, genetic bio-ethicists, social and free-market economists,
environmentalists and others together in a single, non-partisan
discussion in which everyone is free to use the strength of their
discipline to bring about change. The criteria for admission into
this league of designers is not strictly aesthetic or
ecological, but effective agency for the greater good.
According to Mau, The reality for advanced design today is
dominated by three ideas: Its distributed, plural and collaborative.
It is no longer about one designer, one client, one solution, one
place. Problems are taken up everywhere; solutions are developed,
tested and contributed to the global commons. The effect of this
is to imagine a future for design that is both modest and ambitious.
Modest in the sense that we take our place in what Bill Buxton calls
the Renaissance Teama group that collectively
develops the capacity to deal with the demands of a given project.
Ambitious in that we take our place in society, willing to implicate
ourselves in the consequences of our imagination. Massive
Change demonstrates that human society has the capacity and
global wealth to change the world in positive and tangible ways.
The question it leaves us with is, will we?
Massive Change: the Future of Global Design opened at
the Art Gallery of Ontario March 11. International tour dates are
in development. The book Massive Change, published by
Phaidon Press, is available through booksellers everywhere. www.massivechange.com
Doug Chapman is a freelance writer and an associate with
Work Worth Doing, a Toronto-based company dedicated to initiating,
designing and championing solutions to social and environmental
challenges. As a graduate of the Institute without Boundaries
2004, Chapman is a co-author of Massive Change.
His e-mail address is Doug@workworthdoing.com.
|Massive Change Design Economies
An economy is a system of exchange. We explore paradigm-shifting
events, ideas and people, investigating the capacities and ethical
dilemmas of design in such systems as:
Create urban shelter for the entire world
Enable sustainable mobility
Build a global mind
Make visible the as yet invisible
Seamlessly integrate all supply and demand around the world
Bring energy to the entire world
Build intelligence into materials and liberate form from matter
Shift from the service of war to the service of life
Eliminate the need for raw material and banish all waste
Wealth & Politics